If you have followed this website for any length of time you know I
don't usually list our tentative travel plans. It's not for security
or privacy reasons. It's because we so frequently change our itinerary,
for a variety of reasons.
For us, weather is the most important one.
I admit we like moderate temperatures and try to avoid extremes of heat
and cold. More critical is our safety, however. When you travel in an RV
you have to be aware of potential hazards in your current and planned
locations -- things like high winds, heavy rain, flash floods,
lightning, snow, or large hail that can ruin
your camper where you're parked or make driving from one place to another dangerous.
We probably should NOT have
driven through this water on the Alaska Hwy. in
British Columbia in June, 2012.
It could have swept us into the lake. This was the same day
the highway washed out in several
places farther to the north between Watson and Kluane Lakes.
In addition to weather conditions, sometimes other RVers give us ideas
we hadn't thought of, or we'll hear
about a different area or campground that appeals to us. We might decide
to stay longer in one place if we discover there is a lot we like about
it, and we'll sometimes cut a stay short if it doesn't meet our expectations.
Those are a few of the reasons we have changed our minds in the past.
We like Kings Bay Sub Base near
St. Mary's, GA so much we spent the last three winters there.
We have so much flexibility in our schedule since we sold our house a
year ago that we change our minds about where we're going, where we're
camping, and what we're doing even more frequently now than we used to
when our lives had more structure.
As my brother teases, "You can do that."
WHY ALASKA AGAIN?
It didn't take long after our first trip to Alaska the summer of 2012
for us to begin talking about "the next time." Alaska is so
special that we knew we had to go back at least one more time.
Our favorite memories are from Denali National Park:
Close-up of Denali's north and
south peaks (August, 2012)
I was thrilled last year when Congress finally approved the name
change from Mt. McKinley to Denali, its native name. (And I'm an Ohio
native, where McKinley was from.)
Different priorities dictated our plans for the summer of 2013. Jim
was accepted into the Leadville Trail 100-mile mountain bike race that
summer. It's almost as difficult to gain entry in that exceedingly
popular event as it is to finish the doggone thing.
We spent most of that summer in Colorado so he could adequately train
for it. And he finished, vowing never to return. (Not because of the
difficulty but the crowded conditions with so many riders.)
One of the professional photos
taken of Jim at the
end of the LT100 bike race
For a while we thought we'd go back to Alaska the summer of 2014. In
January we decided the time was finally right in our area of rural
Virginia to sell our house.
We put it on the market in April and got a quick offer but didn't
close until the end of June, making it impractical to go all the way to
Alaska. We needed to spend all summer there to make the long drive cost
effective. So while we were in the eastern part of the country we chose
to head north to New England and the Canadian Maritimes.
Colorful Lunenberg, Nova Scotia
For the past year we've been thinking about this summer's trip to
Alaska and keeping up with its news on the
Alaska Dispatch News website. Three years
is long enough to kind of forget how long a drive it
is and just remember how much we loved the Far North the first time we
Tomorrow we're leaving Great Falls, MT and will cross the Canadian
border. We'll definitely feel like we're on our way to another fine
adventure once we get through customs.
WHAT WILL BE DIFFERENT THIS TIME?
The weather, for one thing!
The summer of 2012 was colder and wetter in Alaska and northwestern
Canada than average. It followed a record cold, snowy winter, so a lot
more snow and snowmelt was present when we arrived in the Yukon and Alaska.
Not only did we experience a lot of chilly days that summer, the snow
and wet conditions prevented us from hiking some trails in June and July. It did
make for some interesting observations -- like huge piles of snow
in downtown Valdez in the middle of June -- and scenic drives
-- such as several feet of snow remaining at Thompson Pass, the (or
one of the) snowiest places on earth.
Snow almost at sea level in
Valdez Harbor in mid-June, 2012
Snow pile at the end of a residential street in
Valdez (mid-June, 2012)
Excess snow, snowmelt, and rain also caused the washouts on the
Alaska Highway between Watson Lake and Whitehorse in the Yukon. We won't
ever forget the unprecedented five days it took crews to reopen the road
while we cooled our heels in Watson Lake in June.
It wasn't all that inconvenient for us, just memorable.
Crews had to haul in dirt to
build a "pioneer road" on either side of the creek where the
pavement and culverts
washed out. It wasn't much better when we came back in Sept.
We're hoping this year will be less "memorable" in that regard.
We're facing just the opposite scenario this time. Anchorage, and
probably most of Alaska, has just experienced its
in the last 60 years with the least amount of snow in one season, only
one-third the average of 75 inches.
In fact, it's been warmer in Anchorage and Fairbanks and some
northwestern Canadian cities during the month of May than it was in
Colorado Springs! At least one day was warmer in Fairbanks (86 F.) than
Phoenix (83 F.) or
Houston, for gosh sakes.
We sure didn't expect SNOW in
Colorado Springs in mid-May! It was warmer then
in Alaska and the Yukon than it
was at the USAF Academy campground.
It will be very interesting to see the differences in the areas we
visit this time, compared to 2012.
Knowing how warm it is in northwest Canada and Alaska has been
frustrating to us in chilly Colorado Springs because we've been itching
to get up there.
What prevented that was my decision to get my usual three Orthovisc
injections in my knees, rather than trying a one-dose injection like Jim
did. My last appointment with our new orthopedist was May 28.
An advantage of an early start on
the road to Alaska is being able to
see more wildlife along the way. This grizzly mom
and cub were on
the shoulder of the Alaska Hwy. in the Yukon.
We know more RVers are heading to the Far North two or three weeks
earlier this year because of the warm weather.
That gives us some concerns about being able to find campsites along
the Alaska Highway. We don't want to be in a caravans of RVs. We
plan to start and end our drives earlier through Canada this time so we
reach campgrounds by mid-afternoon when sites are more likely to be
Most of the differences this time should be positive, however --
less chance of washouts on the Alaska Highway, warmer and drier
summer days in Alaska, and more access to trails that aren't under snow or badly eroded.
On our first trip to Alaska we weren't sure what to expect anywhere we
visited. The possibilities were endless and we were like sponges, soaking up
as much information as we could from brochures, the internet, locals, and other visitors.
We did and saw a lot in three months that summer, but we knew
we'd barely scratched the surface.
We had a great day cruise from Seward to
the Ailik Glacier in 2012.
Our goal this time is to repeat some of our favorite experiences
from 2012 and add some new ones.
There are campgrounds and areas we loved, like Denali National Park, that
we plan to visit again. We will go there at a different time this summer so
we can maybe see more wildflowers. Ditto for Valdez, which was an icebox
last time in mid-June. Even though it's a warmer spring we'll go there
later this time to see what it looks like.
Half the trail to the Harding Icefield above Exit Glacier (Seward area)
under snow in early July, 2012. I'm
curious to see what it looks like this summer.
And there are places new to us that we'd like to visit --
Haines, Skagway, Stewart-Hyder, Jasper and Banff National Parks,
the Kennecott Mines, the Arctic Circle, some different trails
and remote roads, and other places. Maybe we'll take a
flight-seeing tour in a different mountain range and land on a glacier this time. Or
go white-water rafting, or take a train ride . . .
Who knows where we'll end up or what we'll do? That's the fun of
making it up (partly, at least) as we go.
I feel sorry for travelers who are locked into a rigid schedule and
either can't or won't adapt to changing conditions and new possibilities.
A LITTLE MORE STRUCTURE
That said, we do have a few more definite dates to plan around this time.
(With us, even "definite" isn't rigid, however.)
Jim has signed up for two long road relays that he'll ride solo on his
mountain bike -- the 148-mile
International Bike Relay from Haines Jct., Yukon to Haines, Alaska, and the
It has options of 50, 100, 200, and 400 miles between Sheep Mountain on the
Glenn Hwy. and Valdez; Jim registered for the 100-miler.
Riding with Casey is more of a warm-up or
cool-down for Jim,
now that he's training hard for two races
We've also made a few more reservations at campgrounds in Alaska this summer than
we did in 2012. Part of that is because we know better where we want to spend our time.
Another reason is that we expect to have to compete with more visitors to Alaska
this summer for campsites. The economy has improved since 2012. Many more RVs are
being sold, fuel is cheaper, more Boomers are retiring, and the state of Alaska is
promoting itself like crazy. Come on up, everybody!! This is the year to
explore the 49th state!!
In addition, the dollar is worth a lot more in Canada than it was three years
ago, making it less expensive to spend some time there on the way to and from Alaska.
We aren't fond of making reservations ahead of time at campgrounds because it
limits our flexibility. We reserved only one place in 2012 well before we arrived
-- Denali National Park. It's hugely popular and spaces for larger rigs fill up quickly.
There are numerous scenic lakes along the
in British Columbia and the Yukon. (Sept., 2012)
That year we made some other reservations just a few days
ahead of our arrival but mostly winged it. It worked well most of the time.
Since it's even more critical this year that we reserve at Denali, we were
on the phone on December 1, the first day to reserve a campsite and Tek Pass in
the national park for 2015. We have reservations at Riley Creek and Teklanika campgrounds
the last couple weeks of July, the peak for wildflowers, and at Riley Creek again
in late August/early September when the fall colors should be spectacular.
Fall colors at Denali NP, with Mt. McKinley
AKA Denali in the background (early Sept., 2012)
In 2012 we learned the hard way that it's good to make reservations as soon as
possible at the Seward Military Resort, and not anywhere near the July 4th holiday
when the place is mobbed for the holiday and the Mount Marathon race. This time we already have a
confirmed space there in early August.
We reserved a site at Williwaw Campground in Portage Valley to use on our way
to and from Seward, and a space at a private campground in Fairbanks in early
September, just before we head back to the Lower 48.
Blue ice from Portage Glacier floats in the
lake by the visitor center in Portage Valley in late June, 2012.
We loved the Trail of Blue Ice in Portage
Valley; it passes 5 or 6 glaciers. (July, 2012)
We also reserved two weeks at a private campground in June for
Jim's bike race in Haines, and several days at another private
RV park near the start/finish of the Fireweed 400 in July.
That sounds like we have a reservation for every night we're in Alaska but that's
only about half the time. Some of our favorite places, like JBER in Anchorage,
are first come-first served so we'll have to trust our luck at those.
Most of the campgrounds where we have reservations either don't have a
cancellation fee or it is low, so if we change our minds and want to modify
the dates or cancel entirely we won't be out a bunch of $$$. We reserve the
right to change our minds at any time and for any reason!
WHAT ABOUT CANADA?
Our tentative arrival date in Haines, AK is June 9 so Jim will have
some time to get acquainted with the Kluane to Chilkat bike relay course
before the race.
That gives us ten days to drive from Montana through Alberta to the
Alaska Highway, through the northeast corner of British Columbia, and
into the Yukon. We didn't spend any time in Whitehorse in 2012 because
we were delayed in Watson Lake after the road washed out. This year we
want to spend a few days sight-seeing and hiking in the Yukon capital.
After we leave Haines we still have at least a day's drive through
the rest of the Yukon to reach the main part of Alaska.
On the way back to Montana in September we'd like to do what we
didn't do in 2012 because of early snow -- drive down the Cassiar
Hwy. in British Columbia to Stewart-Haines and aim for Banff and Jasper
National Parks via the Icefields Parkway.
We'll have to play that by ear again. Stay tuned to see where we
actually end up!
Next entries: travel notes through Canada
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup
© 2015 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil